Tue | Sep 29, 2020

COVID CLASH - Haughton cries as forces lock down skating festival

Published:Monday | August 3, 2020 | 12:00 AMHopeton Bucknor/Gleaner Writer
Residents mill around on Crawford Street after a skateboarding festival was shut down by the security forces in Mount Salem, St James, on Sunday.
Youngsters who planned to show off their skateboarding talent at the Mount Salem Grand Prix were left disappointed on Sunday.
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Residents engaged in a war of words with the security forces in Mount Salem, St James, after lawmen shut down a Grand Prix skateboarding festival that drew hundreds of patrons on Crawford Street on Sunday.

Disquiet in the zone of special operations was sparked shortly before the first race was set to commence as soldiers and police insisted that they were acting on orders that the large crowd threatened to breach coronavirus safety protocols. No police permit had been issued, residents were told.

As smoke wafted from jerk chicken pans and vendors poured out boiling soup, fuming patrons challenged the security forces in a face-to-face stand-off, insisting that hundreds of thousands of dollars had been spent to host the Emancipendence weekend event.

Councillor for the Mount Salem division, Kerry Thomas, one of the organisers, told The Gleaner that the actions of the security forces came as a shock to him and hundreds of residents who turned out for the festival.

“The police and soldiers have been back and forth through Crawford Street more than a dozen times since the start of the morning. They did not object when they saw us setting up for the event. They did not say a single word,” Thomas added.

“It came across rather strange that as we were in the process of setting off the first skaters’ race, the soldiers drove their lorries across the roadway and insisted that they were instructed to stop the event.”

Dr Andre Haughton, the People’s National Party caretaker candidate for St James West Central and main sponsor of the event, cried openly and ascribed political motivation to the shutdown.

“This is an outrage! An outright act of wickedness against the people and the entire community of Mount Salem,” Haughton said.

“... I have never seen such a heartless move, and this is strictly politics at its worst, and they have used it to rob the community members, especially the children who were looking towards the event.”

Entertainment and leisure options were frozen shortly after the emergence of COVID-19 here in mid-March, and strictures under the Disaster Risk Management Act banned large gatherings and certain activities to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

An absolute restriction on parties and other leisure events lapsed on July 21 but with key provisos, including that overall attendance not surpass 280. It is uncertain whether the skating festival breached that cap. Permits are also mandatory.

BREATHING ROOM

However, Haughton said the event was organised to give leisure-starved youths breathing room after being grounded for months. The event was also used as a fundraiser to purchase school books and other educational aids for the students of Crawford Street, the member of parliament aspirant said.

He argued that skating was the only outlet for community folk “to ease their stress”.

“We have purchased dozens of trophies and medals to be presented to the participants and also dozens of awards for various police officers and soldiers who have served the community well under the current zone of special operations,” Haughton stated.

There were reportedly more than 50 vendors on location.

One mother who gave her name only as Miss Gloria told The Gleaner that her three children had spent weeks building their skateboards. For her, a fun community event had been ruined.

“Dem wicked! Dem wicked!” Gloria chanted. “Mi pickney dem a practise fi dem little race from when, and every day, is a joy to mi fi hear dem a tell each other who going to win the trophy, only fi dem come mash up what the children dem spen weeks a prepare fa.”

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